On September 4, the MOE held a press conference to present progress on teacher workforce development. The event was hosted by the MOE’s spokeswoman Xu Mei and attended by Kong Delong, Vice Director-General of the Publicity and Education Bureau under the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, Ou Xiaoli, Director-General of the Department of Social Development under the National Development and Reform Commission, Ren Youqun, Director-General of the MOE’s Department of Teacher Education, and Zhang Buhe, researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences.
In introducing the progress made in the implementation of the Opinions on Deepening Teacher Workforce Reforms in the New Era (Central Government Document No.4), Zhang Buhe said, “Our assessments show that positive changes have been made in many aspects, of which the most notable are raised prestige and social status of teachers and increased attractiveness of the teaching profession.”
He listed two groups of numbers to substantiate this observation, “First, in 2019, among the top 30% Gaokao performers at provincial level, the proportion of those who applied for undergraduate teacher education programs stood at 33.4% on average, 15 percentage points up on the previous year. Second, competition for vacant teaching posts is getting fiercer year by year across the country. For example, in a provincial capital this year, the total of 912 new teaching posts released by primary and secondary schools had attracted 19,000 applicants, with the applicant-post ratio exceeding 20:1, indicating the popularity of the teaching profession.
Since the issuance of the Document No.4, remarkable progress has been made in teacher workforce advancement, including institutional transformation, addressing teacher shortage in rural areas and teacher capacity building.
Ren Youqun noted that a comprehensive teachers’ moral integrity supervision system had been established, putting moral integrity at the core of teacher quality evaluation. Efforts had been taken to optimize faculty management, including the introduction of a workload reduction list for primary and secondary education teachers, and reform in career progression pathways for higher education teachers — all aimed at unleashing the creativity and talent of teachers in general.
Robust policy measures had also been adopted to align average salaries of compulsory education and rural teachers with those of local public servants. Ren added that the MOE would continue to urge provincial governments to adjust their expenditure structure to raise teacher compensation, ensure adequate living allowances for rural teachers, and improve various award systems, with a view to further bolstering teachers’ self-esteem and satisfaction with the profession.
Filling gaps in the teacher pipeline
Ren also introduced multiple measures that had been implemented over the past few years to mitigate teacher shortages in rural areas, including the Special Teaching Post Project (STPP), open recruitment, targeted training, and recruitment of retired teachers. These measures had witnessed an annual addition of 45,000 state-funded normal college graduates in the rural teacher workforce.
Of all these measures, the STPP had played a unique role in promoting balanced education resource allocation between rural and urban areas. Since its launch in 2006, the project had recruited a total of 950,000 teachers to work in over 30,000 rural schools across the country. At present, 95% of STPP teachers served in schools at or below township level, of which 30% were in village schools and teaching points. In addition, the project also helped address the shortage of teachers in specific subjects, such as English, IT, music, physical education and art. Thanks to the project, between 2006 and 2019, the proportion of rural primary teachers holding bachelor’s degree or above soared from 5% to 49%, and that of those specialized in critical need subjects jumped from 6% to 17%.
From 2011 to 2020, the central government invested over 20 billion RMB to build more than 400,000 faculty temporary housing units for rural teachers.
As a set of supportive policies have been put into place, in recent years the retention rate of rural teachers has seen a steady increase. More than 85% of the new hire rural teachers choose to stay with their present position after the mandated service period ends.
Also, a policy toolkit has been developed to strengthen teaching workforce in remote and poor areas. From 2012 to 2019 more than 170,000 teachers were dispatched to teach at 1,272 poor counties across the country. From 2018 to 2020, 9,000 teachers were dispatched to teach at schools in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. From 2018 to 2019, more than 4,500 retired school headmasters and experienced teachers volunteered to teach in remote and poor areas in 14 provinces across the country. In 2020, the MOE announced a plan to call on retired teachers to provide assistance to higher education institutions in the less developed areas of Western China, and up to today 40 retired teachers have already started their job.
Building a high-quality geaching workforce
“The quality of teaching workforce is, to a large extent, hinged on the quality of normal schools.” Ou Xiaoli said. In response to this remark, Ren Youqun reported that a series of measures had been taken to promote teacher education. According to Ren, up to today, in a great number of normal university across 28 provinces, eligible students can enjoy free tuition and accommodation and receive living grants. The state-budget subsidies allocated to each central normal university student and each government sponsored normal university student have been increased by 3,000 RMB and 5,000 RMB, respectively.
At the basic education level, the central government invested 17.2 billion RMB from 2010 to 2019 to a teacher training program, of which 92% was devoted to teachers from less-developed central and western parts of China and kindergarten teachers. In the past decade, almost every primary and secondary school teacher and kindergarten teacher in the country has attended at least one training course offered by the program.
At the vocational education level, the central government invested 2.7 billion RMB from 2016 to 2020 to improve quality of vocational school teachers. National-level innovative teacher teams were established in 122 vocational education institutions, and 102 enterprises were selected to be the first batch of national-level training centers for vocational school teachers.
At the end of the press conference, Ou reported that the government was now working on the formulation of the Recommendations of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) for the 14th Five Year Plan for Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China (2021–2025). This policy document will continue to put priority to education and aim to create a better environment for teacher development.